Keller at Large
Keller at Large
In his latest Keller at Large on MassterList, Jon Keller explores the world of online comment sections or as he calls it, “the vile, depressing world of a political analyst’s comments section.”
Sudders at virtual conference, committee hearings, and more
9:05 a.m. | Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders speaks about mental health reform in Massachusetts at virtual conference “Top of Mind Conference: The Challenges and Promise for Mental Healthcare in Massachusetts.”
10 a.m. | Joint Committee on Higher Education hears testimony on bills dealing with higher education institutions. One bill would allow people with intellectual disabilities, autism or another disability to participate in courses and campus life as non-matriculating students at a state college or university if they have not passed MCAS.
10:30 a.m. | Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development holds a hearing on bills that deal with employee rights and benefits.
11 a.m. | Joint Committee on Health Care Financing holds a hearing to consider 21 bills related to pharmaceutical access, cost, and transparency.
3:30 p.m. | UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Search Committee meets in executive session to screen candidates for its top post.
Call to the bullpen
Imagine one of those oft-used scenes where a horde of freshmen enter school for the first time and seniors can be seen in the background yelling “freshmen, freshmen, freshmen.”
That’s what comes to mind as first-year representatives will soon be headed to temporary office spaces for the first time this session.
House leadership announced plans Monday to use a hearing room in the State House for new-member workplaces, a move that has been traditionally used in past sessions to help acquaint members with legislative processes, lawmaking, and new colleagues and permanent office assignment are being decided. But because of the pandemic, the class of 2021 started their tenures remotely, relying on virtual meetings to meet colleagues and undergo training.
Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan emailed representatives Monday advising them of the available office space in Hearing Room B-1, adding the State House remains closed to the public and staff members other than those in “core offices.” It harks back to when colleges and universities pledged to 2020 graduates that they could attend next year’s graduation ceremonies after theirs’ were canceled because of the pandemic.
The building has been closed for 484 days and the opening of the communal office, affectionately dubbed the “bullpen,” represents one of the first moves toward pre-pandemic norms in the building.
“We continue to encourage remote work, so the office space will be limited to members only,” the email said. “We will begin staffing the bullpen starting next week with people that will be able to answer your technical questions as you transition into the new working environment.”
Those who make their way to Beacon Hill will have all the necessities: printers, scanners, phones, and office and cleaning supplies, according to the email. Members in the class of 2021 will also be the first group to receive new laptops that will be fully functional both within hearing room B-1 and for remote work, the email said.
“Your tenure in the House of Representatives began during one of the most trying times in our commonwealth’s history,” Hogan wrote in the email. “You have shown fortitude and dedication in serving your constituents, and I would personally like to thank you for your patience as we’ve worked to prepare members’ office spaces throughout public health precautions and ongoing physical updates to the State House.”
That’s what activists call it when a college withholds a student’s academic transcript if they have any unpaid debt from their current or most recent term.
Sen. Harriette Chandler and Rep. David LeBoeuf, a pair of Worcester Democrats, plan to call on their colleagues Tuesday to step in and pass a bill banning the practice, which they describe as common.
Why? The lawmakers say institutions in some cases are withholding all credits, even those that have been paid for, denying students the ability to transfer to more affordable schools or get jobs.
The problem, they say, is disproportionately affecting low-income students. But it could be solved starting with advancement of a bill through the Higher Education Committee that guarantees students access to their transcripts.
Major MassGOP donors say they have no confidence in leadership
It keeps getting worse for MassGOP. Embroiled in controversy for months, 16 major donors say they won’t donate to the party until the state committee changes leadership, reports Boston Herald’s Erin Tiernan. Jim Lyons must be having a ball. What happens if the party does change leadership? Those donors pledged $1 million in support if they do.
And while the letter doesn’t call out Lyons by name, it does list scandals that have plagued the party in recent weeks. More from Tiernan: “Lyons called the letter ‘unfortunate and misguided’ in an interview with the Herald, saying he would be ‘happy to sit down with anyone’ who signed the letter.”
The clock’s ticking, kinda
There’s a lot going on as the Legislature looks toward its annual summer recess: expanded early voting-by-mail, the road and bridge repair funding bill, and the fate of the MBTA’s governing body. State House News Service’s Chris Lisinski and Sam Doran report that the House and Senate held relatively quick sessions Monday with plans to come back on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Vaccine Debate: Should the state have exemptions?
What’s a good reason for not getting a vaccine? That’s what doctors, school officials, and lawmakers argued about during a state committee hearing on bills restricting vaccine exemptions, reports MassLive’s Steph Solis. Proposals on the docket included one requiring parents to apply for religious exemptions and another eliminating it altogether for school-aged children.
More from Solis: “The religious and medical exemptions combined make up 1.14% of the student population. That’s a tiny fraction of the student population, but six times higher than the exemption rate 35 years ago, according to DPH data.”
Rocky Rollout: Restaurant relief fund marked with issues
It didn’t go as exactly planned. After lobbying hard for a grant program that could help restaurants bounce back from losses and extended shutdowns as a result of the pandemic, the program encountered issues, reports Boston Globe’s Janelle Nanos. One local restaurant owner found herself rejected from the program after fighting for its creation.
More from Nanos: “Many advocates were hesitant to speak openly about their frustrations about the program. That’s partly because on paper, Massachusetts fared fairly well, receiving $993 million, more than all but five other states in the country.”
One more year? Bill would extend schooling for students with disabilities
Let ‘em stay. Nicol Sih of the Telegram takes a look at state Rep. Edward Coppinger’s push for state education officials to relax rules that end public schooling at age 22. Cooppinger argues the change is needed to allow students with disabilities to recapture learning time lost to the pandemic.
McKinsey & Company involved in runup to state’s Eviction Diversion Intiative
A regular name around these parts: McKinsey & Company. What are they up to this time? Dan Atkinson for DigBoston reports that the firm was part of the planning process that led to the administration’s Eviction Diversion Initiative, a program put in place after a state eviction moratorium expired.
The contract between the state and the firm was amended in October 2020, adding $2 million and another $800,000 in settlements for work on the state’s COVID-19 Enforcement and Intervention Task Force, vaccine distribution, and providing support in modeling the impact of various programs in response to the lifting of the moratorium on evictions in Massachusetts.
‘An all out fight’
The fight must have been a doozy. Lowell police tased and pepper-sprayed a candidate for city council who was allegedly involved in a bar fight over the weekend, reports Lowell Sun’s Alana Melanson. Police reports say the candidate allegedly pointed a finger at a smaller man, who pushed back, and the candidate then threw fists. A bouncer got involved and a police officer broke up the fight.
Red flag: Provincetown prompts request for pop-up testing units
Lawmakers and other officials on Cape Cod are calling for more COVID testing amid a rise in cases of coronavirus despite the city’s high vaccination rate, Cynthia McCormick of the Cape Cod Times reports. Health officials say the case outbreak bears watching but is not surprising given the massive summer crowds that have returned to the vacation destination.
Familiar refrain: Other Lynn candidates cite racial profiling on campaign trail
His story rings true to them. A week after Lynn mayoral hopeful Keith Lee quit the race after experiencing what he called racial profiling while campaigning door-to-door, Allysha Dunnigan of the Lynn Item talks with other candidates who have similar tales to tell — including one would-be city councilor who said a voter called the police on her, presumably because she is Black.
Not-so-special: Brayton Point critic elected amid low turnout in Somerset election
The voters have spoken — well, some of them. Just 16 percent of Somerset’s registered voters turned out for a special election that saw Kathy Souza elected to the select board to fill out a term expiring in April. Audrey Cooney of the Herald-News reports Souza ran on a pledge to get state officials to kick a metal recycling company off the Brayton Point property that hosted a coal-fired power plant and where the town now hopes offshore wind projects will be staged.
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